Why can't I motivate myself to make necessary life changes?
September 12, 2011 10:10 PM   Subscribe

I know what will make my life better. So why don't I do what it takes?

I'm almost 40 and need to make some lifestyle changes, for my physical and mental health, per doctor's orders. It's nothing life-threatening, but necessary nonetheless.

I need to begin and maintain a consistent yoga practice, make some dietary changes (no sugar, no caffeine, complex carbs and all that), and maintain a consistent meditation practice. Consistency being the key-- my previous attempts don't last longer than a week.

I WANT to do these things... I don't dread the thought of yoga (it's my exercise of choice, actually) and I've enjoyed meditation when I've done it. I like experimenting with new foods and cooking new dishes. I've been craving these changes since I'm in such a rut that is not serving me well at all. Yet it's the same routine every day, still... work, come home, cook dinner, hang out with husband, play on computer, go to bed. It's comfortable, I guess, and we're all drawn to comfortable. Maybe some of it is denial-- it's not really so bad, I can do what I want, I'll somehow beat the odds. Ha.

It's making me crazy that the solution to some of my health issues is right in front of me and not all that hard to do. But I'm not doing them! Why?

How do I push through what feels like a huge wall?
posted by miltoncat to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 97 users marked this as a favorite
Because if you do all these things, and your life isn't better, when then?
Because if you start, and fail, you'll then be a loser -- which you aren't now, because aren't trying anything at which you could fail.
Because your rut does serve you, well enough, and you don't know whether this new way of living would.

Fear, basically. At least, for me.

How? Baby Steps. Flylady is about cleaning your house, but she has much wisdom about making lasting life changes. (Even if her method is actively irritating to you, it does still work, I can attest.) What is the very smallest increment that would constitute progress towards your goals, that you could do right now, while you are waiting for your AskMe to populate?

How about, open an all-recipes account, find an appealing tofu dish, and bookmark it. If you do some little thing towards your goals, give yourself a little mental checkmark. Every little thing reduces the activation energy to making changes, and gets you closer. All or nothing thinking tends to keep a person stuck at "nothing".
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 10:37 PM on September 12, 2011 [8 favorites]

I still struggle with some of the things on your list. However, I’ve managed to do some of them for various stretches of time, and here is what works/worked for me:

• To exercise consistently, do it with a friend. If they are going to be waiting for you at yoga class, in all likelihood you will show up. Plus, the social aspect will make it fun

• Build in a prize if you have to work to accomplish a yoga feat over a few months, etc. (okay, I don’t know yoga, but if I managed to go from no running to a continuous 5 km running by following a program, I went on a trip to do a 5 K run…sign up for the trip before you finish training to motivate you)

• Have you tried the health month game discussed in metatalk? it helps for small, incremental changes because it reminds and nudges you each day although you may look like a goofball if you can’t make it through a month following all your rules…but you will probably still make progress You can make your own rules to make gradual changes, such as limiting sugar to 1x/week, or whatever works for you to start to make the change

• Is there a way to automate some of this at least until you make the dietary changes? So if you don’t like chopping veggies, buy them chopped? Or buy a premade salad, whatever? Anything to at least start making the dietary changes?

• If you want to cut sugar, etc., can you not even put it in the house?

• You mentioned a husband on the couch. Can he help with any of this? (e.g. start preparing the complex carbs)

If it were me, I would break this down into steps. If it were still overwhelming, do some of the steps the first few weeks, then add on more and more. But if you look at ten changes at once, it is likely to be too much.

posted by Wolfster at 10:38 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're procrastinating - nothing new

Just force yourself into doing this - its hard. In religious way of saying this, this is a devil trying to stop you from doing the things you want - although even if you're an atheist it feels true

So how do you fight something you can't see? That's up to you - I fought mine through will power, thinking its not my fault and its the devil. Maybe yours is different, but only you can help yourself.
posted by Johnkx at 10:43 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Could it be that you're thinking of the entire project instead of it's components? Making that much change at once is over whelming, even if each small changed is desired.

Try just adding one of those lifestyle changes at a time, and even break down one change into it's smaller components. For instance, the first step is starting a Yoga practice, might be finding a teacher or the right video. Get that one step down and do the next step tomorrow. Soon you'll be making progress.

I hope that's good advice. I wouldn't know, because I'm just like you and haven't done any healthy things today and now i'm reading Metafilter at 10 o'clock at night.
posted by dchrssyr at 10:45 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Try meds? Two months ago I was told I should exercise for my mental health. I didn't. I never exercised. I went on meds and now I suddenly talk long walks and do push-ups before bed and stuff. Its honestly confusing me, but it works.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:48 PM on September 12, 2011

Find a group of 4-7 people with similar goals, and meet with them once a week. The group I'm in meets every Monday at 8a. We hold hands and breathe three times, then go around, each sharing in turn how our practice went this past week, and what we're focused on for the coming week.

It's such a simple thing, but I cannot tell you what a difference this has made in my life.

Another thing that has really helped me with changes of this kind is recognizing how the internal language I used to motivate myself instead had the exact opposite effect.

Chari Huber's books, There Is Nothing Wrong with You and Making a Change for Good have been especially valuable in helping me see how self-improvement can disguise self-hate.
posted by ottereroticist at 10:50 PM on September 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

So, a person might think that they can't live with less than, say, $50,000 a year. Or they think "oh, sure, I can live with less than that, I'd just have to give up x, y and z." But they don't give them up, because they make $50,000 a year. Or they think "oh, I really should give up x, y and z, because then my $50,000 a year will go so much further." But they don't do anything.

Then one day they lose their job, and suddenly giving up x, y and z becomes inevitable and easy.

There's a big, big difference between knowing you should do something, and having no choice. If you're not the type to self-motivate, then you're going to have to do one of two things:

1. Wait until your health is so dire that it truly is a matter of life and death, which will be sufficiently motivating; or

2. Start reaching out to people to exercise with (to provide motivation where you cannot), and finding ways to game your own procrastination away (join fitocracy, train for a marathon on a specific date, and so on.)

Basically, in the absence of the one true motivation (do this or you're dead/homeless/publicly humiliated), you're going to have to manufacture artificial motivation. Try that, instead of wallowing in your insufficient natural motivation reserves.

Good luck!
posted by davejay at 10:50 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fear of starting is a problem I have. As a friend said to me, "Procrastination is your default mode."

After reading some books about it (I'd never thought I'd buy self-help books – I usually prefer books with very large spaceships and / or talking cats in them) and taking a hard look at my habits, I've found two things tend to work for me.

1. The worrying about not doing something is usually more harmful to me than just doing it, and…

2. Taking small steps is a way to fool myself into getting something bigger done and out of the way. For example - scary long report to write. Deep sigh. Start with outline. Have a cup of tea. Write first bit of report where I know what I'm talking about. Have a cup of tea. Write a bit more, etc.

This does not make me a Zen master of non-action and I don't want to sound like a preachy nincompoop. I still get worked up about doing stuff, but I try to remember that once I've started doing the latest Thing That Must Be Done I tend to feel better than I did when I was just thinking about how scary it was but not doing anything about it.

Now for preachy mode. Maybe instead of playing on the computer you don't? Maybe not go near the computer for one evening and do something else instead?

Finally, maybe have a look at nutso sounding techniques like Pomodoro as a way to break things down into small bits and realise that you are getting stuff done.

Good luck.
posted by Gentlemanhog at 11:01 PM on September 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

I was listening to a pretty insightful podcast created by a guy who's dropped about 250lbs in the past year-and-a-half from diet and exercise and is still going (started at about 520lbs). He is a utterly normal guy who has not done anything crazy (no weight loss retreats, starvation diets, etc), simply managed to start changing things enough to get himself going and then keep at it.

Anyway, one thing he pointed out about his prior failures at weight loss is that failure itself is a habit. Not sticking with our resolutions to change our bad habits isn't a fear of failure--when we go back to those bad habits after resolving to change them we've already failed. It's just if we fail to change something often enough, we subconsciously become resigned to this failure and that in of itself will cause us to fail. Look at the wording in your question--you've presented the adoption of these good habits as nigh-impossible and failure as a foregone conclusion.

Changing little habits one by one and making tiny improvements works because we are essentially teaching ourselves not to fail.

So, maybe it would help to think of things that way. Right now, you know how to fail. You need to learn how to succeed. Set tiny, tiny goals--doing yoga once a week, for example--and try to make them without the expectation that you should be doing more. Add more little goals as your successes increase. As the months past by you'll realize that all of those little things have added up to major differences.
posted by Anonymous at 11:02 PM on September 12, 2011

If you can find one piece of all of this that helps pull all the others together, or make the others easier, pretty much put your energy toward that.

Ex: If/when I'm really in my yoga practice I don't need to fight my diet at all, not one little bit, I just don't even want garbage that I *know* I would want except for what yoga gives me. (I mean, I'm in the grocery line, all those candy bars and crap, I can look right at dark chocolate snickers bars and not even flinch, my pulse doesn't even move, and those goddamn things are from the dark side, they are evil, they are spawn of Satan.)

So it pretty much takes care of itself; it's actually sortof amazing.

I know that not everybody gets this from their practice but maybe you do? Or maybe for you it's the meditation that'll pull the strings of the rest of it together, maybe if you keep your meditation practice steadied your diet and yoga practice will sort themselves out; if so, then step into meditation first.

I hope that there is one piece that is the rallying point for you, sure makes it easier for me.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:15 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, I'd change diet and meditate yoga etc but I'm not going to let anyone pry coffee from my grubby goddamn fingers -- hey, *they* want to quit coffee, cool, do what you want, but keep your fool notions away from me, pal...
posted by dancestoblue at 11:20 PM on September 12, 2011

I'm pretty much a poster child for procrastination (I have things I have to do. They are under my forearms on my desk as I reach across to type this, they are due tomorrow, I've had since July to finish them), but when I was exercising regularly, going to the gym three or four times a week, my diet improved on its own. I was looking at the (admittedly inacurate) calorie counters on the machines at the gym, and seeing how much effort it took to burn off calories. That led me to looking at dietary information in a new light. I knew how bad junk food was for me, but now I was looking at it in terms of how much time and effort it took me to deal with bad food choices, and I started to make better food choices as a result. As dancestoblue mentioned, maybe there's the one thing that will bring everything together for you.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:37 AM on September 13, 2011

Best answer: I need to begin and maintain a consistent yoga practice, make some dietary changes (no sugar, no caffeine, complex carbs and all that), and maintain a consistent meditation practice.

That's a lot to try and change all at once. I'd choose one thing and focus on getting it really consistent and ingrained (like, for two months) before even attempting the next.

Also, I find your phrasing interesting. Nobody *needs* specifically to stop eating sugar, caffeine and increase/avoid? complex carbs. Those are really specific changes that are presumably aimed at getting you to meet some other goal. Likewise with the yoga. No one NEEDS to do yoga. Perhaps you need to get more exercise. Perhaps you need to eat more healthy food. Perhaps you need to lose weight (I have no idea) or better control diabetes (although that doesn't account for the caffeine reduction). perhaps you need to improve your sleep quality. But whatever your overall reason for those changes you have decided on, THAT is what you NEED. So go easy on yourself. You can achieve those goals through other means if you decide that specifically yoga, caffeine and sugar avoidance, etc, isn't working for you.

I'm not saying this to criticise your plan, but rather to point out that you might find it easier to see these as choices you are making as a means to an end, rather than absolutes that are The Right Way to Live.
posted by lollusc at 2:35 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding lollusc... Did your doctor recommend those things? If so - Find a new doctor.

Yoga can help with some back problems. Not to say it doesn't have a ton of benefits in general (stress, mindfulness, flexibility, even a good workout), but no one medically "needs" to do Yoga.

Sugar and other carbs count as legit, if and only if you have diabetes (I won't get into the BS of "pre-diabetes" except to say that if you need to lose weight in general, you need to focus on more than just sugar). Any other reason to cut them from your diet amounts to indulging in a pop-cultural fad.

As for caffeine... just... No. Sure, you can drink too much of it. But a cup of Joe in the morning to get you going won't hurt you.

All that aside, don't take this negatively... I love to hear about people actually bothering to make the effort to take care of themselves. But short of adopting this masochistic self-restraint to address a particular condition, you'd do your body a hell of a lot more good by eatin less meat and exercising (yoga or not) more, than by avoiding cultural bogey-men like sugar and caffeine. :)

/ IANAD, but I have a solid understanding (as well as modern science knows) of what keeps a human body healthy. :)
posted by pla at 3:40 AM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding other people's advice here - take baby steps. Find one thing - even a small thing - to improve your situation. Every little bit will help, even if you don't achieve all of your goals.

Also, see if you can find a way to make your life-improving activity fun and enjoyable. If you find something that you love to do, it won't require a daily act of willpower to do it.

(And: I don't drink caffeine myself, but some people are now saying that a cup of coffee in the morning can speed up your metabolism, which is a good thing.)
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 4:09 AM on September 13, 2011

The thing about yoga is there is a whole *deal* about it: go the the place, take off shoes unroll the mat between lines of perfect bodies, etc. Yoga is also not that great of a work-out. It's mainly stretching with a few challenging bodyweight/balancing poses. Why don't you fill up some gallon jugs with water, look up prison exercises, and go ahead and get started exercising in between loading webpages and such. Because prison exercises literally require no equipment and can be done in a small space, you could do a few burpees beside your computer, or do some push-ups or plank while hanging out with the hubby. Think creatively.

But if you do need exercise, rather than building flexibility and looking at butts, you may need to do something other than yoga.
posted by fuq at 4:55 AM on September 13, 2011

"This column will change your life" is excellent on some tricks you can use to change behaviour. Nicely based in science too, if a bit ambitiously named.
posted by cluck at 5:05 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

A list of big changes is overwhelming. Break it down into smaller items that are more achievable. Remind yourself how much you will actually enjoy eating better, and learn 1 new recipe this week. For many of these things, the reward is the action, but you should also praise yourself for every successful change, and lighten up on the self-criticism.
posted by theora55 at 6:29 AM on September 13, 2011

Here's what I would recommend: focus on one change only for now. My personal opinion is that you should focus on yoga. After years of going in and out of ruts and trying to motivate myself to make life changes, I am finally doing it. What I did was purchase a month of unlimited yoga at a studio convenient to my work. I set myself one and only one goal for that month: practice yoga at the studio every day.

This is actually a HUGE goal, the implications of which I didn't fully realize until I had started. By day 5, my arms were so sore I could scarcely lift them to brush my hair. For the most part I persevered though, and ended up going about 25/30 times. I am satisfied with that and feel that I fulfilled my goal.

The reason I would start with yoga is because if you make this commitment, you will essentially be spending an hour a day meditating. Set an intention at the beginning of your practice each day. Make it something like "love for myself." When it starts getting hard during practice, keep coming back to your intention. Come back to your intention at the end of the practice, during shavasana. Spending an hour a day, outside of your house and usual mind space and really focusing on what you're trying to do with your life is going to ingrain this into your brain. I believe the rest will fall into place once it is ingrained.

Good luck to you!
posted by corn_bread at 7:29 AM on September 13, 2011

I just wanted to reply to fuq's comment, above: if you go to a power/vinyasa based yoga studio, yoga is an INSANELY incredible workout. There is nothing remotely easy about yoga - it is the only work out I really do anymore and all of my muscles are clearly defined. I used to be a long distance runner and also went through a round of P90X. Yoga is much, much harder than either of these things.

Try holding a little side crow pose for 20 breaths and then tell me whether you think it's easy.
posted by corn_bread at 7:33 AM on September 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

Focusing on one habit at a time is good advice. But for it to work, it has to be a real change, and not a "white knuckle" hanging-on-for-dear-life resisting temptation forever kind of thing.

For lifestyle things, sit down and make a realistic schedule for yourself. Doing what comes naturally to you hasn't been working, right? So you have to change what's natural, but at the same time admit and allow for your desires. Make a schedule that you KNOW will work, if you simply stick to it: if I check these things off my list, my day will be complete.

For dietary things, since it isn't a life threatening, one drop will kill you kind of thing, maybe moderation is the way. Instead of grabbing a Nutty Bar every time you feel a bit peckish, make a rule that you can have a Nutty Bar with your lunch, after you've eaten your apple.

Instead of multiple cups of crappy coffee a day, limit yourself to a single, really good cup of coffee Sunday morning. Or, switch yourself to decaf slowly over time.

It can be easier to make multiple changes incrementally and move to having a lifestyle of constant, slow, painless self-improvement.
posted by gjc at 8:02 AM on September 13, 2011

I've been using MeFi's own habit judo to good effect for about two months now (orange belt, yay!). It makes it much easier to take the baby steps that people have been advocating in the comments above - if the tracked habits are chosen to be easy enough.

Recently, I started to listen to some guided meditations (breathing, body scan) and loosely following the program of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) by Jon Kabat Zinn, there's also a yoga part.
posted by meijusa at 8:41 AM on September 13, 2011

Seconding Health Month as a great way to make small, incremental "rules" and track your ability - or lack of ability - to follow them. No shame, horrible consequences, or drama. Just a little nudge every day to check in, and the encouragement towards accountability and avoiding the magical thinking that could derail your progress. It's friendly and supportive without being "WOO HOO" about things. The interface can be a bit weird at first, but don't let that sway you. Just dive in and give it a whirl.
posted by nkknkk at 8:43 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am one of the laziest people who ever lazied. I just came back from a camping trip where I had to do a lot more physical activity than normal, otherwise I'd have had to sleep unsheltered on the bare ground and I wouldn't have had anything to eat. As in davejay's comment, I had no choice. I discovered that I actually feel better when I'm more active, so since I returned I've been walking every day. Stop thinking of it as a mental thing; your body will tell you that it needs X, and then your brain has to heed that. People who are serious about working out go through withdrawal symptoms when they don't.
posted by desjardins at 9:18 AM on September 13, 2011

You have to stop looking at it as if it were one huge insurmountable wall towering above you, start looking at the individual bricks and mortar that make up the wall. Every choice you make is a decision at that moment, but you also have to want to do it and be compassionate towards yourself when you do make mistakes. I don't how I got to where I am, much of the other tracking and being accountable tools suggested here I never used. I was just ever present and mindful of the choices I made and learnt how to be more supportive of myself rather than reverting to my default mode of self flagellation. I started by changing my diet one meal at a time and the rest flowed from that. Ultimately, it's the seemingly insignificant decisions that you make along the way that wind up being huge in hindsight.

Nobody *needs* specifically to stop eating sugar, caffeine and increase/avoid? complex carbs.

Any other reason to cut them from your diet amounts to indulging in a pop-cultural fad.

As much as simple carbohydrates are held up as a modern dietary boogeyman, and I would have agreed with you at one point, you're incorrect. Some of us do need to limit the sugar. I went from a life of chronic 24/7 pain due to migraines, where neurologists were writing me off as untreatable, to one where I struggle to remember the last time I had a headache (never mind a full blown migraine) by limiting simple carbs and the amount of coffee I drink. I've known for a long time that hypoglycaemia is a trigger, but I had no clue that the inverse is true too until I had to alter my lifestyle if I didn't want to wind up diabetic.
posted by squeak at 9:54 AM on September 13, 2011

Coming in to third Health Month. Break things down into smaller pieces and gradually form the habits you want. There is something really interesting about how Health Month works that is subtle and sneaky but powerfully effective. The Metafilter team is great. Most importantly for me is the reminder to just keep getting back on that horse- if I have a bad day or a bad week, that's okay, I just keep starting again. It's the starting again that is the key, rather than giving up because yesterday was a bad day or last week was a bad week. Over the long term, a bad week here and there won't matter if you just keep on keeping on, and nothing else has made the keeping on as easy for me as Health Month has.
posted by ambrosia at 10:13 AM on September 13, 2011

I've been mulling over trying to articulate some thoughts I have about this particular sort of struggle and I guess your question wins the, er, "prize".

I'll start off saying that I totally relate to where you are coming from. My goal of total abstinence from tobacco is still sometimes a struggle a decade in, and have dietary issues where transgressing my better judgement can invoke swift, unambiguous negative consequences.

That being said, I've come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as "will power", and the idea that one's chief aim in adopting some good behavior or abandoning some negative one is to somehow accumulate and exercise enough of this mysterious force is a genuine obstacle to achievement.

The only thing there is is decision and when a decision is uncomplicated and your feelings about it are unambiguous it is easy. When a decision feels difficult it means there is some sort of obstruction, misunderstanding or conflict involved and what is necessary is to understand what is going on inside an apparently simple decision that makes it difficult to carry out what you think you want to decide to do.

It could be you want two different things that are contradictory, but you're not really recognizing the conflict or you're convincing yourself in the moment of decision that the conflict isn't fundamental. I'd guess the majority of failed attempts to quit smoking end not with the thought "screw it, I give up" but with the thought "it will be just this one". The lie of the latter thought is that it is somehow possible to be a nonsmoker while continuing to smoke. Well, it isn't. Any addict who decides to quit smoking must inevitably face (many, many times over) this conflict of: of wanting to be a nonsmoker, and at the same time of wanting to smoke. Really facing and consciously recognizing that this is a fundamental decision between wants in which choosing either one absolutely precludes the other will not stop you from choosing to smoke but it will prevent you from doing it under a cloak of self-delusion and denial.

Often we place obstacles in the way of making decisions. If I tell myself I'm going to get up at five every morning and exercise, I'm ignoring the fact, which is basically unrelated to exercise or my ability to decide to engage in it, that I've never been able to consistently get up at five in the morning for any reason whatsoever. I'm never even going to make it to the point of being able to decide whether or not to exercise.

An outcome isn't a decision. You can't decide to be, you know, thinner, or more limber, or to have more energy. These are potentially outcomes of decisions. But it is easy to want an outcome and have some vague sense of what needs to happen for it to come about and believe that is a decision you are contending with. Well, no: a decision has to be something specific that you can do. The more general, the broader, the less specifically focused a decision is, the less likely it is you'll stick with that choice. There are a lot of dietary choices I have that have a varying degree of likelihood to cause me pain. I could say I'm just going to stop eating all those things but I would be very unlikely to stick with it. I've given up bacon. This was not easy! Bacon is delicious and it also seems to have become the go-to add-on for everything from fast food to cuisine. But it is a killer for me and finally I bit the bullet and said, this, no. Specifically this. Not ready to give up all pork products or all cured meats, but I never eat bacon, period, and it has been totally worth it, and I've ended up cutting way back on cured meats because of experiencing the benefit of one specific, simple, unambiguous decision.

Your dietary goals in particular seem both over-aggressive and vague. Getting rid of all sugar is an incredibly difficult and nutritionally dubious goal. Giving up ice cream in the evening, or on days with an S in them, or whatever, is not. Giving up soda pop is not. "Complex carbs and all that" is not a dietary strategy a person can follow. Until you have one you won't succeed in making that decision because you don't actually have a decision to make. Maybe you are still in the phase of deciding what your decisions are. Don't try to jump the gun, you can't make them until you know what they are.

Incremental change works. Positive decisions, even small ones that don't appear to mean much compared to the big picture, still have positive outcomes. Succeeding in small things teaches you the habits (paying attention to what you're doing and thinking and feeling, avoiding doublethink, consciously catching yourself from falling into unconscious repetition of ingrained behavior) of affirmative decision making, and these habits do transfer to bigger things. I'm not in any way shape or form the poster boy for personal transformation but I continue to make forward progress, year after year.
posted by nanojath at 10:25 AM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Something that seems to be working well for me is setting 1 month challenges. Thinking about having to do something, every day, for the rest of eternity seems crazy and just intangible... 1 month... not so much.

I tell myself "Go to the gym twice a week, stick to my diet and don't drink any alcohol for 30 days" I do it TOTALLY, NO CHEATING AT ALL usually for about 25 days, then I cave. I sulk around in my failure for about 10 days and then I start convince myself to start over.

I've been doing this for a while, sometimes I make it to 30 days, sometimes I don't. The point is I generally have an average of 3-4 weeks on good behavior and 1-2 weeks bad... which is, not perfect, but better than nothing.
posted by LZel at 12:24 PM on September 13, 2011

Several people have mentioned Health Month. Here are some of the books that helped shape the website.

One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

The first one is about small steps, as many have already suggested. We're talking very small steps. Your first yoga session should, according to this, consist of you sitting down on your mat for ten seconds. It seems useless. But that's like calling a flower that has been growing for a day useless.

I haven't read the other one.

The last one is about enjoying what you're doing, whatever it is. You can get as much joy out of washing dishes as playing video games. As long as the activity is matched with your perceived ability to perform it, you have defined goals and can see progress clearly, it will be much easier to enjoy it.

A book called The Inner Game of Tennis will be helpful. It's not just about tennis. It's about letting go of judgment and being able to concentrate on the task at hand.

Lastly, I would recommend Impro by Keith Johnstone.

There - literature.

Now, buying all of those and reading them through will be a nuisance if motivation is the problem. So here's the gist of what I've read and applied so far:

When the activity has made you feel better about yourself and more confident, you will return to it as a source of enjoyment. When it makes you feel bad about yourself and defeated, it will drain you of desire to do it again. If it feels like work, you are doing it wrong. If you are relieved when you stop, it's wrong again. If you get distracted, you are doing it, yet again, wrong. Make it so easy it will feel like play. Stop before you want to. Keep your goal solid in your mind the whole time.

I wanted to run, but wasn't able to make the habit stick until I tried this. I went from 200 meters to 20 kilometers in no time. I tried it with writing and now I write 50-60 000 words every month. I'm still trying to boil it down to a simple recipe, but the principles aren't entirely clear to me yet. It works, but I know it could work even better.
posted by windupbird at 3:38 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

You're trying to make a lot of big changes all at once. You will fail from time to time. You are human, just like the rest of us.

The book The Now Habit might encourage you to Just Keep Starting. You're good at starting, so do it every day.

Say to yourself that you choose to do those things - commit to doing those things - and by choosing them, instead of having them chosen for you, it gets easier as well.
posted by talldean at 7:42 PM on September 13, 2011

I have finally realized that I have a limited amount of mental energy, and if my schedule dictates that I'm going to use 90-100% of it then I can't add anything. "Mental energy" is probably not a real thing, but it's an easy shorthand for not wearing myself out. I find that I generally schedule myself to use up most/all of my mental energy, i.e. be as busy as I can without wearing myself out, because otherwise I'd be bored. I think you can stretch a little if you believe in what you're doing / if there's a big reward at the end, but in general you can't run at over capacity for a long time.

What I'm saying is: if you already have a full plate, it you may have to give up something else. "If I could just do X" might be better phrased "if I could just add X." Because you're adding something to your plate - something that takes motivation just like getting out of bed, going to work, and anything else you do in a week requires some motivation. As someone else once put it: you can't make time, you have to take time (from other activities). So if you're adding these tasks to the things that require motivation and energy, what are you giving up? Unfortunately, I have cut out most of my time-wasting, and I've found that the only time I can take is time spent doing things I consider worthwhile. So you may have to give yourself a break - Today you do A,B, and C, but you want to add X, Y, and Z. You may have to limit to just adding X and Y, and you may have to cut out B and C to do it. The problem is that B and C might not be time-wasters - they might be important to your relaxation, or they might be worthwhile things like spending time with others. That's where the tough decisions come in. You only have so much time and energy for things, and which of them are you going to prioritize? It's not so much a question of motivation as it is conflicting priorities.
posted by Tehhund at 7:43 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I just randomly started the Couch to 5k program. I downloaded the app. My iPhone tells me to walk, I walk. It tells me to run, I run. I'm only up to Day 2, so I can't say I'll succeed, but its a very small step that at least makes me feel like I'm doing something.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:47 PM on September 13, 2011

Human beings appear to be genetically designed to choose immediate rewards over future rewards. So, find a way to reward yourself as soon as you make any change of value - don't wait for the results to be your reward, that's too far in the future. Prompt reinforcement can be highly effective. Ask your partner to make love to you after every yoga class :))))
posted by nickji at 2:14 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

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